The United States Senate will soon take up debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and there will be pressure to find savings to help pay for the trillions in coronavirus response efforts. There is one program that is a great target for savings – the bloated budget for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program.
The NDAA will host a spirited debate on a number of hot button issues. Expect debate on the proper role of the military on keeping peace in the streets of the U.S. after a show of strength by President Donald J. Trump near the White House. A discussion of the future of troops in Afghanistan and posture towards Iran will be an aspect of that debate. Also, expect the bill to speed through the Senate while progress in the House is slower.
On the right, there is going to be pressure to cut spending to wasteful programs. Conservatives have pressured the Pentagon for years to cut back on the F-35 program. David Williams, President of the Taxpayer Protection Alliance wrote in Townhall last month, “lawmakers should be taking a long, hard look at the Pentagon’s costly, problem-plagued F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program” for cuts. Williams cites a May Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress that concluded, “from 2018 to 2019, the total cost estimate of the F-35 acquisition program increased by $22 billion, from $406 billion to over $428 billion.” The report found that “the total cost of the F-35 program to over $1.6 trillion” over the lifetime of the program. Conservatives are rightfully skeptical of this program and it is a soft target for cutbacks.
On the left, there is always pressured to cut defense spending and shift it to domestic programs. Defense News reported on May 29, 2020, “Twenty-nine House Democrats are calling for spending cuts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, while the HASC’s influential top Republican, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, has said cutting defense would be shortsighted.” The letter included some of the most ‘progressive’ members and they may have some influence on how the House handles the NDAA bill. An easy cut that will please both liberals and conservatives is to use the $1.6 trillion F-35 program for reform and cuts.
The F-35 program just provided some new ammunition for cuts when it was reported in Popular Mechanics, “the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive U.S. defense program in history, and the aircraft itself has had more than its share of controversy. One recent revelation: The Department of Defense places strict limits on the amount of time a pilot can spend at supersonic speeds, in order to avoid damaging the aircraft.” When the government invests one and a half trillion in a program, they expect the product to be flawless, yet this program is full of flaws and delays.
The design flaws have been numerous. The Bulwark reported last year that “as of 2019, there were many design defects that cripple the program. About 400 of the aircraft have been produced and are in service. Most of these will at some point have to be modified to address a series of design defects.” The GAO report indicated that “F-35 program test officials had identified over 3,200 deficiencies” and “specific instances where the weapon system either does not meet requirements or where the safety, suitability, or effectiveness of the weapon system could be affected.” These flaws, problems and design deficiencies scream for reform and cuts.
With the national debt exceeding $25 trillion and well over $3 trillion in new spending this year alone, there is going to be pressure on every department in the U.S. government to find cuts to spending. The Pentagon is going to have to find a cut or two and the F-35 seems like the perfect candidate for savings.